The Founder15 is a blog series where we profile founders of Work Tech companies in their own words.
Today, we bring you Dani Johnson and Stacia Garr, Co-Founders of RedThread Research, an expert research firm creating unmatched, unbiased insights on people practices. RedThread connects people, ideas, data, and stories to provide leaders with an accessible, affordable community that empowers organizations to make better decisions faster.
Dani and Stacia also have a podcast, Workplace Stories, a place for HR thinkers, writers, leaders, and practitioners to tell their stories about what’s worked, what they’ve learned, and what they hope to see in the future.
1. “Tell me about you.” How do you answer that question?
Dani: I’m a research analyst, I focus on learning. I’m a mom, a wife, a Utahn, a cyclist, a traveler, and a reader. And, I’m an entrepreneur.
Stacia: I’m an analyst, a questioner, a thinker, a writer, a mom, and a wife. I’m also an
equestrian, a skier, and a native Arizonan currently living in California. I graduated from a women’s college and hold an MBA, but most importantly, I’m an entrepreneur with Dani.
2. What’s your company’s origin story?
Dani: It all started when Stacia and I worked at Bersin by Deloitte. Stacia was on maternity leave when I decided to leave the organization. We were the de facto leaders of the group, so I called Stacia to give her the heads up that I was leaving and would be taking a job elsewhere. She immediately responded with, “do you know what I’ve always wanted to do? I’ve always wanted to start a business, but I haven’t wanted to do it by myself,” She said it super fast. I thought, okay, let’s talk about it. We spent a week putting together a business plan, then, on my way out of the final interview for the job I was planning to take, I called Stacia and said, “let’s start a business!” So, that’s how we got started.
Stacia: The only thing I’d add there, is that when Dani called me, she was like, “hey, did ya hear me?! I’m in interviews, and I’m ready to do this!” Once I returned to Bersin post-maternity leave, I knew I didn’t want to stay. So, we decided this was the thing we wanted to do next.
We’ve just recently celebrated RedThread’s five-year anniversary. We’ve never been more proud of anything we’ve done than this.
3. Why is your company different?
Dani: Well, we started RedThread because we wanted to do research differently. We are highly collaborative, not just with other thought leaders but with the people doing the work on the ground. We bring people in as quickly as possible to our ideas; we’re big on community building and giving credit where credit is due. We’re steadfast in being honest, even if it hurts. We are women-owned, which is unique (sadly, even still today, that’s unique). We try hard to be applicable; we love ideas, but if they can’t be applied it doesn’t do anybody any good.
Stacia: We focus on topics that are different than most research firms. You’ll often see a learning analyst, talent analyst – basically, folks focused narrowly on a single area. However, we aspire to cover a broader spectrum of topics and see how they are related. Even our name, RedThread, alludes to the idea that we’re connecting concepts that are often considered different, but we see them as fundamentally connected. We have the incredible luxury of doing work that we think is the most important and exciting. If there’s a cutting-edge topic, we run for it because we think it’s lots of fun. There aren’t many people with the background and breadth of experience we have to help people sort through the implications of some of the biggest challenges we’re facing now. While it’s fun for us, we’re also providing a meaningful benefit to the industry we’re serving.
4. Why do you do what you do?
Dani: Honestly, we want to make the world a better place. I know that sounds cheesy, but of all the things I’ve done in my life, I have the opportunity to make the most significant impact here. To change organizations so that people have better lives within those organizations.
Stacia: My answer is fundamentally the same as Dani’s (which is part of the reason Dani and I work together so well). As a researcher and an analyst, we can influence organizations at scale, which means we’re helping improve people’s lives. And we’re doing it in a way that doesn’t make people feel they need to give up on business results to make people’s lives better. Those things can actually be combined.
I also have two young daughters, and I want to make the world of work better for them and those historically underrepresented in business (such as myself, who grew up not knowing a single person who worked in a corporation). The more we bring diverse ideas and concepts into work, the better jobs and career trajectories we’ll have, and the more promising the world will be. They say that potential is evenly distributed, but opportunities are not, and I want to expand opportunity.
5. What do you know now that you wish you had known before you started your company?
Dani and Stacia: So. Many. Things. All of the things.
Dani: The importance of a partner. It would be overwhelming to think about what we’ve been through in the last five years and imagine handling it all by myself. I see some founders going it alone, and I’m in awe. It’s been a journey, and none of it has been easy, but the importance of a good partner with whom you’re aligned has been vital in getting us where we are.
Stacia: I’d have to agree with Dani; it’s the importance of a partner. Adding to that is the necessity of being an agile leader and the ability to set a new vision. RedThread just passed its five-year anniversary, and it’s been an especially interesting time to be in business, and a small business. We’ve had to pivot a lot to remain true to our overall vision and stay in business. I don’t think I could have appreciated the level of agility and flexibility we needed before experiencing it as a founder.
6. Who is your go-to person for professional advice?
Dani: It’s a combination of folks. Todd Tauber, my best manager ever; Don Taylor, a professional colleague; and Wayne Brockbank, who got me into this beautiful mess of the HR world.
Stacia: It’s situation-dependent for me, but, If I were to pick just one person, it’s honestly
my husband. He’s a former management consultant, a product leader at Google, and has well-rounded experience. Sometimes, having someone not in the HR world give feedback and say, “why are you doing it like that? I would never use that,” is super helpful. He’s my closest sounding board.
7. What’s your favorite album and why?
Dani: The Joshua Tree by U2. It’s a classic.
Stacia: Fly by The Chicks.
8. What book are you reading now?
Dani: The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman. It’s fascinating if you’ve lived through it, and really fascinating if you haven’t lived through it.
Stacia: How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results by Esther Wojcicki, the mother of Susan Wojcicki, who was, until very recently, the CEO of YouTube. Esther also has two other insanely successful daughters. I figured she might have something useful to say.
9. What was your worst job?
Stacia: Mucking horse stalls every Sunday morning for six hours in the Arizona heat. That was my worst job. My poor dad had to help me (he was driving the tractor). It was miserable!
Dani: I didn’t have a job as bad as Stacia’s, but I was a receptionist for two months. That was horrible, but probably because it was not for me (not because of horrible conditions).
10. What career advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Dani: Chill the hell out. It’s gonna come, no matter what. Just chill out.
Stacia: Be willing to experiment. Dani is really good at that.
11. What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?
Dani: I quilt, sew, and crochet. If you need anything tailored, let me know.
Stacia: I still get nervous sometimes before I speak. And I speak a lot.
12. What’s the one thing you would like to be remembered for?
Stacia: One, being kind. Two, helping change people’s minds. One of the greatest compliments someone can give is, “wow, you really helped me think about that differently.”
Dani: Not surprisingly, that’s what I would say! Also, though, I want to be remembered for not
compromising. Not in a negative way, but I stand behind what I believe.
13. What’s a perfect day for you?
Dani: Outside, in the mountains, with my family.
Stacia: Outside with my horse, a ride, probably a hike or something, and then a massage. A perfect day always involves a massage for me.
14. What’s your favorite piece of clothing?
Stacia: Yoga pants
Dani: A ratty The Starr Conspiracy sweatshirt that Steve Smith gifted me. I wear this thing all the time, and I love it.
15. What should we ask the next person we interview?
Dani: What’s your superpower? Would you ever be on a reality TV show?
Stacia: What is your favorite non-curse curse word? What’s your favorite car?